Mad Max as a character is a person who is never that motivated or active. He is a passive hero that finds things happening to him, and he is forced to deal with the consequences. In a lot of ways, the new Mad Max game feels the same way. Rather than a game about Mad Max, there seems to be an open world game that just happens around the character of Mad Max, and that usually works against your enjoyment.
The game starts with Max getting ambushed, having his car stolen, and subsequently left for dead. He awakens in the dirt and begins to stumble his way through the wasteland. Very quickly he stumbles across a deformed mechanic named Chumbucket who says he can build the ultimate car. Max says he needs a car so that he can cross the Plains of Silence, and so you team up with the hunchback.
That is pretty much 90-percent of the plot for this game. Max wants a fast and sturdy car, so the entire game sees you chasing down parts for your car, specifically a big V8 engine. In your journey to track down the collection of parts you are after, you will meet a cast of characters, each controlling a stronghold, that seem interesting and diverse. Or at least they would be interesting and diverse if the game ever spent time explaining who they are. Each one is extremely visually dynamic and each character looks like they have deeply thought out stories about who they are, and why they are in the position they are in, but instead each one just serves as a purveyor of fetch quests. It feels like there was such rich narrative that was simply ignored with these characters.
What Mad Max lacks in narrative is makes up with customization and content. In a manner not unlike an RPG, Max and his car the Magnum Opus can be upgraded and enhanced dramatically throughout the course of the game. There is well over 100 different items and upgrades between Max and the Magnum Opus, so you can equip and upgrade your car and your character in a way that matches your play style. Then there is the sheer content amount. Mad Max was created by Avalanche Studios, the company responsible for what may be one of the most underrated open world titles ever created, Just Cause. As with any open world game, there are hundreds and hundreds of small activities and goals to complete. The most prominent feature of the Mad Max game world is scavenging locations where Max can find a small amount of loot or special items to upgrade the various strongholds around the map. There are scattered all around the map, and there are dozens and dozens of them. Some are very small areas that are quick to explore, while some are set up like mini-levels with enemies to fight and hidden areas to explore.
Sadly, while there are tons of these places to explore, almost all of them are exactly the same. I understand that Mad Max is a barren wasteland of the future, but I can only explore so many rusted out buses and rock cliffs before it becomes boring. And this is a criticism that can be levied at most of the game as a whole. With a few minor exceptions, almost every area you journey to, and every enemy base you try to conquer, you see the same items, same scenery, and same level layout. It’s almost as if they just made a handful of small areas, and then copied them across the map in various locations.
Once again, there are signs of greater ambition with level design that just never seems to go anywhere. Each of your strongholds is in a very cool and interesting location like an abandoned nuclear silo or beached freighter ship, and some levels see you visit sunken airports and subway stations, but these levels are small or rarely visited, leaving you instead to explore the same pile of rocks for the seventeenth time.
Beyond the scavenging locations, Mad Max is filled with other multi-time objectives that include taking out enemy snipers, destroying enemy totems called scarecrows, destroying enemy convoys and taking over enemy camps. I already talked about how all the camps feel and look the same, but they are miles more entertaining than the convoys, snipers and scarecrows. To destroy a sniper or scarecrow, just simply drive into it, and it will be destroyed. Fully one ¼ of your mission objectives in the game consist of driving to a spot and driving through a thing. That’s it. The convoys take a bit more effort, but still amount to little more than shooting at a moving group of cars for three to five minutes until the all blow up.
In short, Mad Max is kind of boring. The plot is empty, the levels all look identical, and most of your activities in the game are mindless and repetitive.
But there is a saving grace. Despite its generally boring nature, Mad Max is actually really fun to play. As a WB property, it shares a lot of DNA with the Batman Arkham franchise of games, and that means that combat feels great. Running into a swarm of 15 war boys and going to town battling them all at once feels violent, brutal and dangerous. The game nails the feel of the wasteland with enemies wielding makeshift weapons, all coming at you in crazed hordes.
Driving is the same. Having a car that you can customize to be fast, or heavily armored, or a weapon-focused attack machine lets you tackle the wasteland as you see fit. With the multiple car bodies you can choose, and various colors of paint, you can make a car that is as unique as you are. I loved it. Driving through the wasteland itself can be insanely entertaining as you chase down enemies, jump of cliffs and sand dunes, and explore unmarked roads and back corners of the map. Despite the game being so boring, I keep finding myself coming back to it just so I can bomb around the wasteland in my car, and then beat up a bunch of crazed hooligans, only to jump back into my car and tear off again.
I dare say that the car driving and combat alone single handedly makes this game worth a buy.
Now I am not sure if Mad Max is worth dropping a full $60 on for a brand new copy, but give it a few weeks and see where prices go. I would happily pay $40 for this game and never feel an ounce of regret. Just know what you are getting into when you get started. The story is underwhelming, and the general missions are boring, but once you start blasting a few guys in the face with your shotgun, or when you make that epic jump across a canyon with your Magnum Opus, you will smile; really that is all the matters.
Mad Max was reviewed using a retail disc copy of the game for the Microsoft Xbox One Console. This copy of the game was provided by Microsoft for evaluation and review purposes.